Core Succession Management Practices to Develop Replacement Options for Top Executive Positions.

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Wowledge Expert Team
Principal level
127 Wows earned

This guide is part of a progression set comprised of Core, Advanced, and Emerging Succession Management practices.

What it is 

Succession Management is a strategy and process for identifying, developing, and managing replacements for future leaders and critical role contributors so that successors are readily available as those positions become vacant due to promotions, transfers, terminations, or retirements. It encompasses the concepts of “Succession Planning” and “Replacement Planning,” which are part of the larger succession management scope. They are programs that aggregate the knowledge, skills, abilities (KSAs), and goals of identified candidate employees, assess those against the requirements of current and future roles and manage employee development in preparation for key executive roles. 

A succession management strategy aims to identify potential leaders successfully and ultimately have them considered for those key roles as they become available. The objective is to have the individuals named as potential successors on a formalized plan become the initial candidates who interview for the identified role. The interviews may include other candidates – typically external to the company at the time of interviews - but including those named successor candidates is judged a success whether they are offered the position or not because it reduces risks for the company and enables the individual to add to their development.    

Two terms are essential to understand: “Successors” and “High Potentials" (HIPOs). Successors are candidates for top executive roles, with limited vertical movement available thereafter (typically the roles that report to the CEO or President). These are contrasted with HIPOs who are lower in the organization, and thus are considered for increasingly senior roles that culminate in a Successor status. They are employees who have the potential, ability, and aspirations to rise to multiple levels in an organization and are further differentiated from “High Performers,” who excel at their current role but may lack the capabilities required for promotion (who are commonly known as being “topped out” in the organization). The difference is that HIPOs are high performers with the potential to take on more demanding and higher-level roles eventually.

These practices are designed to establish a base identification, assessment, and development capability that is designed to understand an organization’s succession requirements, talent gaps, and development priorities. They serve to organize and structure an ongoing review of leadership capabilities, where key leadership roles, sustainability, and reliability are the focus. They define what is needed to succeed in each role in a manner that provides a map or pathway towards critical competency and skill development for those selected as having the potential and abilities to advance to higher-level positions. They analyze the skills and experiences of existing candidates for future leadership roles and help develop a holistic projection of replacement strategies in case a key role holder leaves due to retirement, illness, or voluntary or involuntary termination.

Why use it

The value of Succession Management to an organization starts with promoting confidence amongst the company’s CEO and Board of Directors in the organization’s ability to prepare for executive retirements and departures. Vacancies in top positions can stall progress toward meeting strategic objectives and annual goals, create uncertainty amongst investors, and create a leadership and direction/decision-making vacuum for those reporting to the open position. 

This can also maintain “tribal knowledge” of how an organization operates and succeeds by developing a pool of candidates who are led, mentored, and coached in a particular organization’s “leadership culture” (how the organization determines strategic direction, how it aligns or coordinates efforts, and how it binds the people together). While the “pros and cons” of an internal promotion vs. an external hire are many, executive promotions have a higher success and retention rate in successful organizations in the marketplace. Particularly in the cases of unanticipated departures or those requiring immediate replacement, having a solid replacement strategy is essential to continuing business operations.


Adopting practices at this level yields a repeatable process for identifying replacement strategies focused on key strategic roles.  It involves identifying the top roles and clarifying the requirements and the ideal characteristics of a top performer. It establishes a formal process for nominating likely candidates for replacements when the incumbent leaves the job and documents those for review and approval by top leadership. It creates a gap analysis process, where insufficient replacements are available, and identifies gaps that need to be filled through recruitment or accelerated development. Development plans for identified replacement candidates are created that engage a number of learning and development methods designed to fill competency or experience shortcomings for these individuals.

Practice guides at this level

Developing a list of top executive positions to plan for future replacements.

Identifying the roles for which replacement candidates for the most senior, and thus strategically impactful are needed.

Identifying standardized criteria and recommending successor candidates with potential for higher-level positions.

Developing success profiles to compare candidates, and then identifying candidate employees with the potential to rise to the next level (or more).

Identifying talent gaps in replacement candidate availability or readiness.

Assessing gaps in either depth or breadth of leadership replacement pools for each key role by the time a position is expected to become vacant.

Preparing selected candidates for their next role through interim development roles or training programs.

Preparing learning and development actions for each successor that is specific to identified skills or capability gaps to either meet or accelerate the readiness timeframe.

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